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Picketing Free Expression Trumps Alberta Privacy Law
May 14, 2012

The Alberta Court of Appeal has upheld a lower court decision declaring portions of the province’s Personal Information Protection Act unconstitutional as it relates to free expression on picket lines.

In 2006, when employees at the Palace Casino in Edmonton went on strike, both the union and employer videotaped the picket line. The union posted signs which stated the images of those who crossed the picket line might be posted on a website entitled “www.CasinoScabs.ca”. Several individuals recorded crossing the picket line filed complaints with the Alberta Privacy Commissioner under the Act.

The Adjudicator concluded the union did not have the right to collect and use the recordings in question, however, the Court of Queen’s Bench subsequently overturned that decision, determining that the exception in the Act for journalistic collection was too narrowly drafted.

The Court of Appeal upheld the lower court decision, concluding the collection of information at a picket line was protected by the right to free expression under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Practices such as dissuading people from crossing the picket line, enhancing the morale of strikers, deterring violence and threats, and achieving a favourable end to the strike were found to be legitimate purposes supported by the right to free expression, which should not be limited by the Act.

This case has important implications forthe legality of conduct on picket lines. An appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada is expected.

United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 401 v. Alberta (Attorney General), 2012 ABCA 130

If you have any questions concerning the information presented in this article, please contact Frances Doyle, Partner.